We all know high cholesterol is unhealthy, but most of the time there are no symptoms, so we may have high cholesterol levels and unknowingly be putting our bodies at risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
More than 102 million American adults have cholesterol levels above the healthy range, states the CDC, telling us that what you don’t know can, in fact, hurt you. Learn more from these high cholesterol facts to stay heart healthy.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance — made by the liver and found in some foods — that circulates in the bloodstream and is vital to the body’s healthy functioning. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can be dangerous to heart and vascular health.
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Here are some basic facts about cholesterol that everyone should remember:
When seniors — or any of us — gets a blood test for cholesterol, the laboratory measures levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides. The total number for HDL and LDL should, optimally, be below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood). Anything above that could indicate high cholesterol. At the same time, the specific numbers are important: having HDL below 40 mg/dL for men and below 50 mg/dL for women can increase the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
For seniors, it’s particularly important to get screened for high cholesterol. Cholesterol levels rise as we age, says NIH Senior Health, and in particular, women’s LDL levels tend to increase after menopause.
Older age isn’t the only risk factor, either. Cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, or a family history of early heart disease can also affect LDL levels. For seniors with high cholesterol, it’s critically important to work with a physician to determine a goal for lower LDL and healthy lifestyle habits.
Lowering cholesterol has a huge effect on cardiovascular health. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, high levels of LDL combined with other risk factors like the ones discussed above can increase the likelihood of heart disease or heart attack. At the same time, appropriately high levels of good cholesterol can help protect against heart attack, stroke and even dementia.
Lowering cholesterol may require a number of therapeutic lifestyle changes:
In some cases, a physician may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering drug like a statin or a cholesterol absorption inhibitor. But, with or without drug treatment, a healthy lifestyle and regular screenings are key to maintaining desirable cholesterol levels — and living well into one’s golden years.
Take this opportunity to become educated about your cholesterol and get at-risk family members tested. If you or your family has been affected by high cholesterol, we invite you to share your experiences in the comments below.